Gratitude 101

 
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Do you feel like you’re always reaching? Like when you buy that thing, or get that job, or finish that goal, you’ll be happy? I’ve heard these aspirations called many things including shiny pennies, carrots, vision boards, bucket lists.

On the flip side, I’ve also read a lot about gratitude and living in the present moment. No longer reaching and living a life of ‘I am happy now’, not ‘I’ll be happy when…’

Back when I started looking into positive psychology, I shared the strategies to a more satisfying life from Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, researcher and author of The How To Of Happiness. Even though they sounded simple, I wanted to look further into her research.

A good proportion of the tactics she discusses come back to gratitude – being grateful, expressing wonder at the world around you and counting blessings. Research has shown that practising gratitude regularly can have a huge effect on your outlook, disposition and overall happiness.

The truly fascinating part of Sonja’s research is that she has ascertained that:

  • 40% of our happiness is in our control and can be influenced by intentional activity
  • 10% is based on circumstances outside of our control
  • 50% is genetically determined.

Only 40% control makes me want to work harder, so gratitude is a new focus. When I say working hard, the premise is actually to be satisfied with your life as it is, but that can be harder work than I thought...

Below are some of my favourite practices, and some I’m yet to implement:

Five grateful thoughts each morning

This is perfect for the newbie to gratitude or those that feel they don’t have enough time to be grateful (an oxymoron?). Every morning before I get out of bed, I list the first five things that pop into my head that I’m grateful for. It sets a good frame of mind for the day and stops me moaning that it’s too early to get up.

Mantras and affirmations

Taking a mantra through your day is something I learned from Gabrielle Bernstein’s book May Cause Miracles. The book is based around daily practice in meditation, but also gives you an affirmation to use as needed over the course of the day. You can either set a few reminders in your phone or go back to it when you’re feeling overwhelmed or when you have a quiet moment. A few of my favourites are:

  • I’m grateful for this moment
  • I could see peace instead of this
  • I am responsible for what I see

I could go on and on with these ones… And she also has a very cute app that you can use as your alarm.

Journaling

I’m not a regular journal-er but it’s a popular gratitude practice. Writing down at the start or end of each day what you’re thankful for helps ground you and is great to refer back to on a not-so-great day. Plus there’s so many nice journals out there to choose from right?

Photos and quotes around your home

Ok, I’m not a big fan of the ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ sign, but there is strong research into the fact that having an uplifting quote around the home and surrounding yourself with photos of family and friends increases gratefulness. The photos in particular remind us of the amazing people in our lives, the places we’ve travelled, the celebrations that stood out. Even when we’re in the humdrum of everyday life, reminders of these can keep us grounded and increase our satisfaction with life in general.

  Some moments I like to remember.

 

Some moments I like to remember.

Gratitude letter (and visit...)

I’ll be honest and tell you this one terrifies me a little. Martin Seligman, pioneer for positive psychology, developed this exercise. You think of someone who has made a major impact on your life, write them a gratitude letter and visit them to read it in person. I would love to hear if anyone has done this or is interested in doing it. I imagine it would be a hugely powerful experience.

Celebrating moments

I am so guilty of this one and am working on this for 2015. I am a goal setter and luckily most of the time, a goal achiever. But what I forget to do is stop and celebrate each goal, rather than rushing right by on to the next one or brushing it off as not a big deal. Living in the present moment is about celebrating these achievements, for yourself and others. And why not take a photo and put it up in your house to remember it?

I’d love to hear how you practise gratitude? Or if any of these are enticing you to start?